With thoughtful preparation, your home can be a happy place for your cat during the holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another special occasion. These eight tips can help you make sure the holidays are stress-free for your fur baby.
1. Cat-Proof Your Decorations and Your Holiday Tree
Let's start with the Christmas tree and your holiday decorations. You want to be extra careful when you cat-proof your tree, since fake snow, tree water, certain holiday plants, and even tinsel can be dangerous to cats.
One of the easiest solutions to stop the tree from tipping over is to secure the tree to the wall and make sure it's on a solid base. To prevent ornament breakage, hang the more enticing, fragile ornaments higher up the tree out of your cat's reach. Cats can climb, so you might want to use unbreakable ornaments on the tree and save the more fragile ones to display elsewhere in cat-proof boxes. Try using plastic or shatter-proof ornaments, and hang them by string instead of hooks that can hurt your cat.
Avoid decorating the tree with tinsel, which can injure your cat if he eats it. Try felt, paper, or wood decorations instead. You might also want to spray a scent your cat doesn't like around the tree, like citrus or apple cider vinegar.
Don't leave the cords and wires exposed where your cat can chew on them, and be sure to turn off the lights when you leave.
If you have a live tree, cover the water reservoir with a tree skirt to prevent your cat from drinking out of it. Even if you're not using a chemical additive in the water, the debris from the tree entering the water can make your cat sick.
Be sure to keep pine needles away from your cat. Not only can real pine needles be toxic, but they can also cause blockages that could require surgery. Because of this, you might consider using an artificial tree instead.
If your cat tends to eat spiky things, whether they're real or artificial, you might want to use a Christmas tree alternative. You can get a cute green cat tree that's in the shape of a holiday tree. Or use a different type of tree that is mostly branches and decorate it with cat-safe, shatter-proof ornaments.
Be extra cautious with holiday plants and avoid the ones that are poisonous or toxic to cats, such as poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe, to name a few. Because there are no guarantees when it comes to all the creative ways cats can get themselves into trouble, the best choice is not to leave them alone with holiday decorations in the first place.
2. Focus on Peaceful Guest Introductions
When guests are in your home for festivities, always let your cat decide whether he would like to interact with them or not. If a guest approaches or tries to pet your cat, your cat may feel threatened and fearful. Let your cat set the pace for guest interaction. In other words, let it be on your cat's terms.
3. Use Calming Diffusers to Help Your Cat Stay Relaxed
Cats use pheromones to help them feel safe and calm. Managing your cat's stress through all the changes in the home during the holidays is much easier when you can mimic those calming pheromones. Instead of feeling worried about guests coming through the front door or about new decorations, your cat can have a sense of safety and calmness.
The Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser mimics a cat's natural pheromones, communicating that everything is safe and secure. It can help your cat enjoy the holidays and the interesting activities that have temporarily become part of her life. Plug it in a few days before the changes (decorating, parties, etc.) begin, so it has time to start working.
4. Create a Safe Space to Get Away from It All
To keep stress levels down, create a place for your cat where he will feel comfortable and protected while watching all the new activity in the home. Consider using a cat tree, a hooded cat bed under a table, or a pop-up cat tent to create a sense of safety while still viewing the world. Spray the cat bed or pop-up cat tent with calming pheromones to help create a restful retreat for your kitty. If you have a kitten, a heated bed with a pillow that vibrates like a heartbeat will help keep him calm.
Some cats might prefer to be confined to one area (like a bedroom) with the door shut. This space should have all their necessary items (food, water, litter boxes, toys, and a resting area) and be a place of retreat when the holiday excitement is a little too much.
5. Promote Confidence-Building Activities
One of the best ways to help cats feel more confident and less stressed during the holidays is to play with them using a wand toy that you maneuver. Your cat is at her most confident and fear-free when she is hunting—or in this case, preying—on her toys. A moving toy can be much more enticing for a cat to stalk and chase than a stuffed mouse toy “asleep" on the floor.
Cats can also feel extra confident if they have high places to retreat to, so consider setting up cat shelves, window perches, cat trees, and condos. As an added bonus, the right toy or cat tree can distract your cat from holiday decorations and Christmas trees. If you give your cat a special cat condo she can only use during the holidays, she might lose interest in your tree.
6. Provide Mental De-stressing Activities
Incorporate a food puzzle into your cat's dry food or treat regime to provide him with a much-needed mental activity that so many housecats lack. A cat's instinct is to work for their food. Offering this outlet in your cat's environment can be a very effective way to de-stress him during the holidays. During the rest of the year, food puzzles can also help support both ongoing physical and emotional health.
If your cat needs more mental stimulation, consider clicker training him.1
7. A Little Extra Attention Can Go a Long Way
Grooming, petting, or just spending some extra time with your cat, even if only a few minutes between wrapping presents, can help improve your cat's confidence and lower stress. As long as your cat enjoys the activity, it can help your cat not only feel less stressed but more closely bonded with you. Your cat loves you, and the more time you spend together, the better she will feel.
8. Predictability Is Important
Cats become used to routines, and if something in their predictable schedule changes, it can cause stress. This can be especially true for cats that are fed at certain times of the day. If you're going to be out late holiday shopping and unable to feed your cat his usual evening meal on time, enlist the help of a timed feeder to dispense the food when your cat typically expects it. Timed feeders are available for both dry and canned food varieties. Try to maintain other routines too, whether it's a certain time of day you always play a game or a nightly snuggle on the couch.
When the festivities are over and the guests have said their last goodbyes, don't forget to pet your cat and enjoy a few magical holiday moments together. The holidays are for everyone, including your fur baby.
1. Moss, Laura. "How to Clicker Train Your Cat." Adventure Cats, 11 October 2015, https://www.adventurecats.org/backcountry-basics/how-to-clicker-train-a-cat/.